March 24th, 2014

Flexi-work enables equal division of labour

The idea that flexi-work conditions are economically undesirable is rooted in a sexist division of labour and must be changed (“Fewer firms opting for flexi-work conditions”; March 17).

stockphotoIn reality, all employees have domestic needs and responsibilities, including housework and caregiving. Everyone has clothes that need washing and floors that need cleaning, and very many have family members who need care.

The concept of an employee who has no need for flexi-work arrangements is based on the hidden assumption that someone else, behind the scenes, is taking care of those needs.

Overwhelmingly, that person is usually a woman – either performing unpaid labour as a family member or underpaid labour as a domestic worker.

When businesses say “local work culture” is incompatible with flexi-work options, this implies that “local work culture” is reliant on the sexist and exploitative practice of expecting women to do all or most domestic work, with fewer contributions from men.

This marginalises women.

Recently, 52 per cent of human resource managers surveyed by Robert Half said women are not getting the same career opportunities as men – 71 per cent cited lack of work-life balance arrangements as the reason in large firms; 71 per cent said “societal perceptions of women” held women back in medium-sized firms.

Flexi-work arrangements should be available to all. This will help partners in a household share domestic responsibilities equally and not force women to bear the whole burden and consequently drop out of the workforce. Manpower Ministry statistics show 43 per cent of economically inactive women cite domestic responsibilities as the reason. The figure for men is 1.8 per cent.

Additionally, flexi-work arrangements enhance worker productivity by improving morale and labour retention. Firms should give workers ownership over tasks, prioritising engagement over inefficient “face time”. We are glad that the Government recognises the need for flexi-work in its Work-Life grants, and hope to see more support to make such possibilities available to all.

The Association of Women for Action & Research has had positive experiences with flexi-work as an employer. When necessary, staff members, many of whom have caregiving responsibilities, can work from home at modified working hours. The move away from a face-time-based office culture has proven beneficial – we can tap into more talent, and our employees are more satisfied, focused and productive.

By Sumedha Jalote (Ms), Communications Executive, Association of Women for Action & Research

This letter was first published in the Straits Times Forum on 24 March 2014.

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